The domestic season has just started, and with some noise. With India’s Test stars back in the fray for the country’s elite First-Class cricket tournament, “Indians at least would know that the Ranji Trophy had started”, as WV Raman put it rightly.
This year the Trophy has something new to offer: revamp of the format, pre-season investments by some teams in terms of paid assistance from the National Cricket Academy (NCA), international coaches for teams like Andhra and Maharashtra. The season has struck the right chord in its quest to keep the premier tournament still relevant.
A good number of Team India members played the opening round, preparing for the series against England. On Day One of the 2012-13 season, Sachin Tendulkar grabbed the headlines with a sparkling, run-a-ball 136 against a Railways bowling attack, which had Murali Kartik in its ranks.
Following a departure from the Elite and Plate divisions, we now have a format with three groups, with each team playing four away and four home games, an increase from the erstwhile five. This has ensured a more level-playing field. The scheduling, however, has come under fire with just a three-day gap between fixtures.
The new format also has five days for all knock-out games and an optional sixth day so as to grind results out of rat-races for the first innings lead on unsporting pitches. But it has not killed the possibility of run-fests in the group games, with home teams and curators banking on the toss and their batting personnel, the latest examples being the Maharashtra vs UP or the Karnataka vs Tamil Nadu games ending on November 12.
Apart from killing the pace bowler with less time to recuperate, domestic cricket has also literally killed an intellectual pursuit called spin. With spinners having to bowl 50 overs in an innings, although not an excuse in sub-continental conditions, First-Class cricket along with the Indian Premier League, has led to a decline in the craft. Flatter and faster trajectories, negative lines have become endemic.
Even bigger a problem is the choice of venues for other domestic series like the Irani or Duleep Trophies. I strongly feel that such fixtures must be scheduled in places like Dharamshala or Mohali, which encourage pace bowlers and sets up an exciting contest between bat and ball. In hindsight, it can be a good preparation and a litmus test in deciphering who can handle similar conditions overseas.
A green pitch is not possible, however. But, always, good domestic competitions can be on the cards if the ball can move laterally or bounce considerably at lively pace. It is in the DNA of every Indian batsman and every Indian spinner to do their ‘traditional’ roles well inside India, on flat decks.
It is not possible to do away with the other domestic tournaments like the Deodhar or the Challenger Trophies, but they can be looked into by the technical committee headed by none other than Anil Kumble himself.
India’s domestic cricket has had great viewership in the past, with local crowds turning up in large numbers to watch their heroes like Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar, but has been on the decline with some lacklustre and star-deserted tournaments being organised. The English County Championship and the Australian Sheffield Shield have been kept alive and have continued to produce quality cricketers and contest through years, and our age-old Ranji Trophy must meet its challenges in the best interests of the game and its relevance in India.
(Madhav Krishnan is a student from Birla Institute of Technology and Science (Hyderabad), pursuing M.Sc (Chemistry) and B.E. in Mechanical Engineering)